THE TRANSFORMATIVE JOURNEY OF FATMATA KEMOH
PUBLISHED JANUARY 30, 2023
Fatmata’s journey from struggling marginalized petty trader to a thriving entrepreneur committed to providing her children the education she never had, is testament to the power of access to financial for women and adult literacy education for women in Sierra Leone..
As the sole provider for her family, Fatmata Kemoh struggled to provide sufficiently for her five children since the passing of her spouse many years ago. The petty trading of food ingredients at the CowYard local market in Kenema, a town in the eastern part of Sierra Leone provided Fatmata with less than $2 a day in profit. These meagre profits were not sufficient for Fatmata to cater for her children’s education, health and general house maintenance cost and usually drove her to seek financial assistance from local loan sharks. Her lack of knowledge in business management, entrepreneurship and inability to access to finance limited Fatmata’s ability to grow her business and provide sufficiently for her children
In 2019, the More Than A Woman (MTAW) project implemented by SEND Sierra Leone and funded by Irish Aid and the Embassy of the Republic of Ireland in Sierra Leone identified thousands of women like Fatmata in the Kenema district who had no income and livelihood security due to their inability to create and manage sustainable micro-enterprises. Understanding the context, the project focused on educating these rural women on local resource mobilization through the Village Savings and Loans Association (VSLA) scheme and entrepreneurship through the Competency-based Economies through the Formation of Entrepreneurs.
Fatmata's experience with the Wabitor VSLA group, a twenty-five-women member savings group supported by the project was transformative. In the first few months, she participated in resource mobilization and entrepreneurship training sessions. These training sessions equipped Fatmata with resource mobilization and business development competencies. Putting her knowledge into practice, Fatmata began by re-structuring her business operations and outlined a clear profit-sharing method between her saving, household expenditure and investment needs.
"This project has been a blessing for me," Fatmata said. "Before this time, saving was one of the most difficult tasks I faced as a businesswoman, but with the business training that the other group members received from the MTAW project, I now feel empowered as a businesswoman.”
Despite her small profits, she instilled in herself a strong savings culture and ensured she contributed her savings weekly into the group’s savings box. She structured her household expenditure to ensure household expenditure did not mix with her business operations. After a year, these actions by Fatmata proved pivotal as she received a sum of Le 3,725 which was equivalent to $375 as her savings contributions for the year. For the first time in her life, Fatmata had been able to save money of her own and was determined to ensure that this personal achievement would be the beginning of security for her household. From her savings, she paid the college tuition fees of two of her children ensuring their ability to pursue their tertiary education. She however understood the need to dedicate part of her savings as an investment into her petty trading business and therefore increased the stock of food ingredients she purchased from her supplier. She also identified the demand of non-food items amongst market customers and invested into the sale of these items. This business strategy increased Fatmata’s weekly income earnings considerably.
“The training I received from SEND through its partner Irish Aid Embassy on how to efficiently utilize money is of great importance in doing my business ventures. This has taught me the core principles of how to make a business sustainable"
Over the next two years (2021-2022), Fatmata’s savings contributions increased steadily allowing her to save over Le 11,175 which has been used to expand her business and provide sufficiently for her children by catering for their education, health and upkeep needs. Fatmata's story is one of many of the women in Kenema who have been impacted by the More Than a Woman project. She is now a proud and successful businesswoman, breaking the cycle of poverty and marginalization for herself and her family whiles inspiring other women in her community to follow in her footsteps and achieve their own financial and personal goals.